Montpellier, France has become the latest European city to offer free public transit for local residents, fulfilling a campaign promise by Mayor Michael Delafosse before he was elected in 2020.
About 260,000 residents out of a population of 500,000 have now signed up for free passes, up from 86,000 when the local transit system charged a fee, Agence France-Presse reported late last year. The shift began with free weekend rides shortly after Delafosse took office, then free access throughout the week for riders younger than 18 or older than 65, beginning in 2021.
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Delafosse said like-minded communities have “set up an association to help other European mayors make the same choice,” as part of a “European commitment to… the climate and purchasing power.”
The free system will be funded by a new transport tax on companies with a dozen or more employees, AFP says. Visitors and tourists in Montpellier will still pay €1.60 per trip.
The decision in Montpellier follows similar moves in Tallin, Estonia and across the entire country of Luxembourg. But Urban Transport Magazine says the experience with free transit has run into its share of speed bumps.
“Tallinn is actually considering [plans] to re-introduce fares as the effects on individual car traffic, public transport usage, and thus city development in general are deemed not sufficient to justify the additional burden for taxpayers,” the industry publication states. “The main reason for this trend in Tallinn is probably that the attractiveness of public transport services has not improved so decisively, and other accompanying measures have not been implemented to the extent hoped for.”
But Montpellier approached the transition differently, with its gradual phase-in and new revenue source. That approach “looks promising,” Urban Transport Magazine states, although the actual performance of the system will “have to be carefully observed and analysed” over the longer haul.